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With UT case numbers creeping up, chancellor warns about testing, promotes vaccinations

UT students have been slipping in their compliance rate for submitting saliva samples that are used to test for the presence of COVID-19.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On the one hand, vaccines to conquer COVID-19 are basically now available to all students and employees at the University of Tennessee.

On the other hand, students who live on campus are continuing to skip handing in saliva samples that are so important for tracking the presence of the virus.

It's mandatory if you live in Greek housing or in a dorm at UT, but the rate of compliance has been steadily going down --- most recently below 50 percent to 45.9 percent, UT Chancellor Donde Plowman said Friday.

Students who live off campus are urged to submit to testing.

As of Friday morning, there were 108 active cases in the UT community including 100 students. There are 363 people in isolation or self-quarantine, including 223 students on campus and 112 students off campus.

UT is trending in the wrong direction.

"We don't want any setbacks at this point," Plowman said in her weekly online briefing with parents and students.

"We're not out of the woods yet," said Dr. Spencer Gregg, director of the UT Student Health Center. "We have to stick with the program."

Plowman said UT has been able to lift some visitation restrictions for dorms and Greek housing that reached a testing compliance rate of 75 percent or higher. Residents don't want to lose the ability to visit with their friends in the dorms, Plowman cautioned.

There's a one-day spring recess April 2. Classes end in just about a month - April 28.

Plowman said the news this week that Knox County has opened vaccine eligibility up to those age 16 and older means everyone has an opportunity to get their shot now and help reduce the presence of the virus in the community. Gov. Bill Lee said this week the whole state would open up by April 5 for all eligible adults. 

UT will be ramping up campus vaccine clinics, Gregg said. It's limited in offering the vaccine only to people 18 and older because of the shots it has available, he said.

"It's (vaccinations) really the only way we're going to be able to potentially get back to a pre-COVID life," Gregg said.

The campus is at a critical point, Plowman said.

"Until we have higher participation rates or critical mass in vaccinations, we cannot let our guard down," she said.